NEW YORK, NY – MAY 23: Angela Davis and Nikole Hannah-Jones attend The Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner at Cipriani 42nd Street on May 23, 2023 in New York. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/PMC/PMC)

Changemakers across art, entertainment, business and philanthropy gathered to celebrate Parks’s legacy and raise money to continue his commitment to advancing social justice

The Gordon Parks Foundation hosted its annual Awards Dinner and Auction celebrating Gordon Parks’s legacy and those continuing his commitment to advancing social justice last night at Cipriani 42nd St. The evening honored scholar and activist Angela Y. Davis, artist Amy Sherald, businesswoman and philanthropist Clara Wu Tsai, author and producer Crystal McCrary and businessman and community leader Raymond McGuire. Additionally, the Foundation welcomed Kate Clark Harris, daughter of Dr. Kenneth Clark and Dr. Mamie Clark, groundbreaking psychologists who developed the “doll test” experiments, which were photographed by Parks for Ebony in 1947. Kaseem Dean (aka Swizz Beatz), a Co-chair for the gala, and Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of the Gordon Parks Foundation, served as hosts for the evening, which raised nearly $2 Million for the foundation.

“What a spectacular and inspiring evening celebrating the power of art to advance social justice and bring about change,” said Kunhardt, “Each of our honorees has changed the social landscapes of civil and human rights, art, education and philanthropy. Each has helped to elevate a field that Gordon Parks cared deeply about. Each exemplifies Parks’s commitment to inspire future generations.”

The assembled audience included some of the world’s most celebrated artists, photographers, musicians, actors and philanthropists including Devin Allen, Elizabeth Alexander, Sarah Arison, Joey Bada$$, Naomi Beckwith, Dawoud Bey, Sanford Biggers, Black Thought, Mikal Bridges, Sherry Bronfman, Busta Rhymes, Bisa Butler, Jelani Cobb, Adger Cowans, Renee Cox, Dapper Dan, D-Nice, Fab 5 Freddy, Marc Glimcher, Thelma Golden, Nan Goldin, Agnes Gund, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Bethann Hardison, Jammie Holmes, Rashid Johnson, Judy Lauder, Leonard Lauder, Deana Lawson, Spike Lee, Walter Mosley, José Parlá, Marc Payot, Adam Pendleton, Deborah Roberts, Marcus Samuelsson, Lorna Simpson, Dana Tang, Tracy Tang, Mickalene Thomas, Rhuigi Villaseñor, Andre Wagner, CJ Wallace, Hank Willis Thomas, and many others.

Pulitzer-prize-winning creator of the 1619 Project, Nikole Hannah-Jones presented the award to Angela Davis, whom she praised for her lifelong dedication to economic, racial and gender justice that continues to inspire new generations to take action. In her remarks, Davis noted that she was “very deeply moved” by the honor. “Gordon Parks was a visionary who paved the paths that many of us, artists and activists alike, are still walking,” Davis said. “The world never changes because of the statuses of individuals, whether they be presidents or senators or CEOs. Progressive change always happens because ordinary people stand together, imagine, demand and struggle together.” She implored the crowd to continue to support efforts around the world to fight “against racism, class exploitation, patriarchy, homophobia, transphobia and to continue our ongoing work to save this planet.”

Screenwriter and producer Mara Brock Akil presented the award to painter Amy Sherald, the first African American to receive a presidential portrait commission from the National Portrait Gallery for former First Lady, Michelle Obama. Sherald was also congratulated via a video message Michelle Obama sent for the occasion. “I believe that Amy was chosen for something far bigger than painting a first lady’s portrait,” said Obama. “Amy was chosen to tell untold stories. She was chosen to channel her own experiences into art that touches us and makes us not just think, but feel. She was chosen to use her talents and her indescribable presence to lift us all up and help us recognize that we are capable of so much more than the limitations we too often place on ourselves. Thank you to the Gordon Parks Foundation for continuing to champion the next generation of artists to share their own gifts.” 

Artist Rashid Johnson presented the award to Clara Wu Tsai, businesswoman, philanthropist, criminal justice activist, co-owner of the Brooklyn Nets, New York Liberty and Barclays Center. “I believe in the artist as change agent,” Wu Tsai said as she noted how Parks’s work continues to inspire. “What his photographs did was to force the world to stop and take in life.” 

Director and Chief Curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem, Thelma Golden, presented the award to Crystal McCrary and Raymond McGuire, who were honored as Patrons of the Arts. As she accepted the award, McCrary remarked, “We believe that art can be a catalyst for change, a tool to build bridges across divides, and a means to create a more inclusive, compassionate, and just society.”

Leslie Parks Bailey, daughter of Gordon Parks, and Liz Moskowitz, former wife of Parks, introduced Kate Clark Harris, who recounted how the doll test study started at Howard University as part of her mother’s master’s thesis and evolved into work with her father as they both earned Ph.D. degrees at Columbia University. Dr. Mamie Clark and Dr. Kenneth Clark were the first African American woman and the first African American man to earn the highest degree in psychology at Columbia. Parks photographed some of the doll test subjects for Ebony magazine in 1947.

The evening also feted the 2023 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellows – artists Jammie Holmes and José Parlá and art historian and Howard University professor, Melanee C. Harvey, who received the Genevieve Young Fellowship in Writing. 

The gala kicked off with a powerful performance by Anthony Morgan’s Inspirational Choir of Harlem. The 40-person ensemble received a standing ovation from guests. DJ D-Nice closed out the evening with a set that had guests dancing throughout the venue and singing along to his old school playlist.

The evening, which brought together changemakers across film, music, the visual arts, business and philanthropy, included a live auction conducted by Hugh Hildesley of some of Gordon Parks’s iconic photographs. All proceeds from the evening will support year-round educational programming as well as the fellowships, prizes, and scholarships provided by The Gordon Parks Foundation to the next generation of artists, writers, and students whose work follows in Parks’s footsteps.

The Gordon Parks Foundation Awards Dinner was co-chaired by Alicia Keys and Kasseem DeanKathryn and Kenneth Chenault; Tonya and Spike LeeJudy and Leonard Lauder; and Carol Sutton Lewis and William M. Lewis, Jr.

ABOUT THE GORDON PARKS FOUNDATION

The Gordon Parks Foundation supports and produces artistic and educational initiatives that advance the legacy and vision of Gordon Parks—recognized as the most significant American photographer of the 20th century, as well as a writer, musician, and filmmaker, who used the arts to further “the common search for a better life and a better world.” Through exhibitions, publications, and public programs organized in collaboration with national and international institutions at its exhibition space in Pleasantville, New York, the Foundation provides access to, and supports understanding of, the work and contributions of Gordon Parks for artists, scholars, students, and the public. Through its year-round educational programming and annual grant-making initiatives, the Foundation champions current and future generations of artists and humanitarians whose work carries on Parks’s legacy. https://www.gordonparksfoundation.org

ABOUT GORDON PARKS

In a career that spanned more than 50 years, photographer, filmmaker, musician, and author Gordon Parks created a groundbreaking body of work that made him one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Beginning in the 1940s, he documented American life and culture with a focus on social justice, race relations, the civil rights movement, and the Black American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks was drawn to photography as a young man. Despite his lack of professional training, he won a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship in 1942; this led to a position with the photography section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C., and later, the Office of War Information (OWI). By the mid-1940s, he was working as a freelance photographer for publications such as VogueGlamour, and Ebony. Parks was hired in 1948 as a staff photographer for Life magazine, where he spent more than two decades creating some of his most notable work. In 1969, he became the first Black American to write and direct a major feature film, The Learning Tree, based on his semi-autobiographical novel. His next directorial endeavor, Shaft (1971), helped define a genre known as Blaxploitation films. Parks continued photographing, publishing, and composing until his death in 2006.